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Monthly Archives: July 2017

How to Fail at Pitching

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 20, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised at the positive reception that came when I wrote my Comprehensive Guide for Pitching. It was originally aimed at pitching to magazines but the guidelines (which have subsequently also appeared in the ATA Chronicle) apply just as well to writing pitches for guest blog posts or even asking for work.

 

That brings me to today’s post. Recently, I have begun receiving more pitches asking for a guest post on this blog as well as companies trying to sell me their products and services. Sadly, however, most of them have not been of a high standard. Since it seems that several of my colleagues are experiencing the same thing, I thought I would put together a hit list of ways to ensure that your pitch fails.

 

  1. Don’t bother checking the contribution history

 

Does it really matter that the blog or publication only ever has posts from the same people or that everyone comes from the same company? It’s not as if they will have made a deliberate decision as to whose voice they want to publish, right? Obviously, if they have made a decision as to what to cover, offering them something completely different will rarely result in acceptance. In fact, they are more likely to see you as a time waster.

 

The same goes if you are trying to sell a product. If the person running the website only ever talks about conference interpreting equipment and building interpreting teams, attempts to sell them Desktop Publishing services or expensive Translation Management Systems are unlikely to succeed.

 

  1. Forget the hook

 

All that stuff about reading previous issues and doing research sounds like a lot of work doesn’t it. Maybe you should just lob a generic pitch on a subject that has been covered a million times. It will be fine, won’t it? Guess again.

 

  1. Don’t proofread

 

Should we expect someone calling themselves a professional writer to send pitches that are grammatically sound and don’t contain any spelling errors? Or should you just hope that the no editor or site owner is not going to judge your writing skills based on your pitch? I will leave that to you to decide.

 

  1. Leave out all the stuff about targeting your pitches

 

Maybe I am the only person in the entire world who ever wonders, “why on earth am I getting this email?” It does surprise me to receive a pitch for a post on computer assisted translation tools supposedly aimed at a blog that deals with interpreting and events management. Trying to work out where a post will fit is the sort of challenge that busy people will tend to pass up.

 

  1. Start with a bunch of qualifications and history

 

We all know that the one thing editors and bloggers absolutely love reading on a Friday afternoon is the history of how long your company has been running and how many degrees your founders have. They fall over themselves to read about all the different services you offer, especially when a sum total of none of them are actually relevant to your pitch. In fact, the longer it takes them to actually figure out what on earth you are trying to tell them, the happier they are. That might just have been sarcastic.

 

  1. Use a generic salutation

 

We are in the 21st century so surely no one actually wants you to bother finding out their name or address them personally. “Dear Linguist” has that impersonal feeling that makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. And of course “hi” with no name will always be a classic. Even better, go all formal with “Dear Sir/Madam”, especially if you have sent them a message via the contact form on the website that actually tells you their name! There is no quicker way to get rejected than failing to even write a personalised salutation.

 

  1. Completely ignore guidelines and forms

 

Websites are designed with forms for a reason. Shove your email in the topic line, drop a call to action in the email box and do whatever you like with the rest of it. It will really make you stand out from the crowd in ways you cannot even begin to imagine, none of them good.

And please, if there are pitching guidelines on things like length and style, do adhere to them. If you don’t, you might as well give up before you even start.

 

 

Yes, I admit, this post has been rather heavy-handed in places. I have no doubt that those sending requests for blog posts or trying to sell their services are doing so for all the right reasons. But, since pitching essentially boils down to asking someone you have never met to do you a huge favour, it really does make sense to make it as easy as possible for them to say yes. Whether it seems fair or not, they will expect you to have done the research and targeting necessary to make your pitch relevant, professional and compelling. After all, it’s exactly what they will expect from your contribution and services too.

Over-hyped, Under-thought and nowhere near ready: Machine Interpreting

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 12, 2017

A few months ago, I was flying to an important meeting and I was flicking through the in-flight magazine (for pitching purposes, you see). As I did that I spotted a short paragraph touting the latest technological development: an in-ear device that promised to translate flawlessly from one language to another. It looks like from now own event managers can dispense with us interpreters for good and just load up on a supply of tiny devices to make sure everyone has a great event, no matter which language they speak.

 

Obviously that isn’t going to happen.

 

Despite the wonderful headlines in the press and the incredible claims made by marketing departments, the chances of machine interpreting ear-pieces doing anything more than replacing phrasebooks is miniscule.

 

Why?

 

Firstly, there is nothing fundamentally new in the technology used in such devices. Machine translation of some sort or another has been around since the 1940s and is still producing results that range from the plausible to the ridiculous. Remember when google translate turned Russia into Mordor? Remember all those websites displaying mangled English because of poor use of machine translation?

 

Without going into the fine detail of where machine translation actually stands right now (you can read that in this article), basically, unless you are willing to spend months training it and are okay restricting your language to controlled phrases, the results of machine translation will be a bit dodgy.

 

When it comes to magical translation ear-pieces, machine translation is twinned with voice recognition – the technology that is still giving us frustrating helplines, semi-useful virtual assistants and the fury of everyone who doesn’t have a “standard accent”. Sure, voice recognition technology is advancing all the time but it still works best when you use a noise-cancelling microphone and speak super-clearly – not quite the thing for crowded cafés or busy conferences.

 

The second reason why translation headsets are not a cure-all is that interpreting is about far more than just matching a word or phrase in one language with a word or phrase in another. Language is a strange beast and in all communication, people use idioms, metaphors, similes, sarcasm, irony, understatement, and implications and are tuned to social cues, intentions, body language, atmosphere and intonation. At the moment, and for as much of the future as we can predict, computers will struggle to handle even one of those things.

 

Human interpreters have to be expert people readers as well as having enviable language knowledge. Ask the CEO for whom an interpreter helped sort out a cultural and terminological misunderstanding that threatened to lose the company a deal with several million pounds. Ask the doctor who worked with an interpreter to be culturally-aware enough to give a patient the right treatment. Ask the speaker whose interpreter prevented him from making a big, but accidental cultural mistake.

 

When human interpreters work, they don’t simply function as walking dictionaries. They take what is said in one language, try to understand its meaning, tone, and purpose and then recreate it in another language in a way that will work in that specific context.

 

The only way that machines could ever do that would be if meetings and events were just about stuffing information into people’s heads and human beings always said exactly what they meant in a completely neutral way. With the current emphasis on the importance of delegate experience and our newfound awareness that people are more than just robots, it makes sense that we would realise that their communication deserves to be handled by experts, not machines.

 

So the next time someone tries to persuade you that you should let machines take over the interpreting at your event, just remember: for information processing, use a computer; for experience and expertise, work with humans.

5 Tips to Rock Your First International Event

By: Jonathan Downie    Date: July 3, 2017

Running international events is not easy, especially when you are new to the job. So, as someone who is often brought in as an interpreter to help make sure that the French-speaking audience love it as much as their English-speaking counterparts, here are my top 5 tips from the booth to you.

 

  1. Details matter

 

Yes, we all love nice rooms and a posh-looking programme but it is easy to spend so much time on the big things that the small but crucial details get left out. Little things, like the amount of water available, making sure everyone knows where the toilets are, keeping to time and having on-site staff who are competent and happy, make a huge difference. Just ask the people bursting for the loo while dealing with grumpy staff and they will tell you!

 

  1. Over-communicate

 

The post on keeping short lines of communication with suppliers is still one of the most popular on this blog. And it bears repeating. Given that every single international event will be a team effort, every member of the team needs to know what is going on and their part in it. What might seem like an irrelevant piece of information for you (the doors are opening fifteen minutes later than planned, two speeches are being swapped, an additional guest is coming) can make a big difference to any suppliers who are there. Better to give too much info than not enough.

 

  1. Treat Questions as Your Best Friend

 

In the same vein, while you will undoubtedly be busy in the run-up to the event, when someone in your team asks you a question, it is always worth treating it like a golden nugget, rather than an annoyance. Not only does answering their questions help them do their job more effectively but it can also save you precious time and money too. Queries such as “what are the goals of this event?”, “when can we get access to the room?”, and “what equipment will be onsite?” are absolutely fundamental to delivering a great event.

 

  1. Prioritise Purchases that Make a Difference

 

Ah budget constraints, the bane of many events! While it is absolutely true that every event has to be financially viable, it will always be worth asking about the consequences of different kinds of cost savings. Almost no one will notice it if you shell out on brand name water instead of standard stuff, if you put it all in clear bottles (is there actually any difference?) but they will notice if the PA system is rocky or if you have gone for cheap and unqualified interpreters and sub-standard conference interpreting equipment. A good rule-of-thumb is to prioritise purchases according to their importance in achieving the goals of your event. Few events really need the agenda printed out in gold-leaf anyway!

 

  1. Enjoy the ride!

 

Few event managers enter the profession for a quiet life! The thrill of seeing it all come together is a vital part of the job. And savouring that thrill is both a privilege and a necessity. No matter what happens, enjoy the fact that you did something that few people can do well: you brought together a team of experts to ensure that visitors from more than one country had an experience that made a difference to them. That’s worth celebrating.

 

If you are organising your first international event, you will need interpreting suppliers you can rely on. If you would like someone to save you time by making sure you get the right team every time, drop me an email. And here is a completely free template for briefing your interpreters too.